Sierra Club: Faked Water Samples in West Virginia Expose Need for Wider, Immediate Investigations

Corruption at Appalachian Laboratories Raises Fundamental Questions About Water Safety Throughout Region

WASHINGTON, D.C. –-(ENEWSPF)–October 31, 2014.  Today, the Sierra Club called on state and federal regulators to conduct immediate, wide ranging investigations into the safety of water throughout Appalachia. The call was prompted by the recent guilty plea of Appalachian Laboratories field supervisor John W. Shelton, who admitted this month to conspiracy to violate the federal Clean Water Act by diluting, distilling and outright substituting water samples. Shelton told a U.S. judge that he and others at Appalachian Laboratories Inc. faked the samples so “that we could maintain the business with the coal companies that we were working for.”

“This malfeasance highlights the need for state and federal regulators to conduct a full investigation of both Appalachian Labs and other laboratories that conduct water sampling for coal mines in West Virginia and beyond” said Bill Price, a national organizer for the Sierra Club and West Virginian. “This isn’t the first time that water quality samples have been manipulated or faked because of coal company pressure, but it is certainly one of the most egregious. Mounting evidence makes clear that companies can’t be relied on to police themselves, and state regulators are not doing enough to identify fraud. The need for swift additional action by investigators, including the FBI, DOI’s Office of Surface Mining, and West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection is clear.”

In 2010, citizen groups uncovered dozens of fraudulent discharge monitoring reports submitted under the Clean Water Act by three coal companies in eastern Kentucky representing thousands of violations. The fraudulent reporting ranged from obvious duplication of data between multiple reports to contradictory data for the same locations.

“Up till now, the states have failed to systematically prevent and investigate these violations. Until they do, we can’t be confident in the safety of our water.” said Price.

In 2009 and 2010 respectively, coalitions of citizen groups including Appalachian Voices, Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Sierra Club, joined by local state-specific groups, petitioned the EPA to revoke the authority of West Virginia and Kentucky to regulate the Clean Water Act. Those petitions documented gross violations of policies intended to protect water impacted by surface mining operations. This September, coalitions filed additional petitions in those states, and worked with local groups in Virginia to file a petition against that state’s Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy (DMME) for systematically failing to comply with the requirements of the Act since 2011.

“EPA has not yet responded to our petitions” said Price. “We are hopeful that they will do so quickly, so that these failures by the states to hold violators responsible will be addressed without delay. These latest revelations about water monitoring programs confirm our worst suspicions about state oversight and the threats to our water.”